Second-year slump or something more serious?

posted
03-Jun-16, 14:35
Avatar for PerceptuaLenna
posted about 4 years ago
Hi guys,

A warning - this thread is likely to descend into me just moaning!

I feel as though I want to quit my PhD. Previously I've said this a couple of times but lately that thought has been so prominent. I actually feel as though, if I had anywhere else to go/anything else to do, I would leave.

(isn't there a saying like "I have a reason not to leave but no reason to stay"?)

My research is a mess (to paraphrase a visiting scholar). It was a project proposed by my supervisors, which I applied to work with....little did I know that they had pretty much no rationale for carrying out the main proposed study. There are things that, in hindsight, I would have changed, but I felt so pressured/rushed to start data collection that there's no way I could have spotted those things (especially with these supervisors).

My supervisors each have a separate 'area' - these areas only converge in my project. The problem is that neither seems to have even a basic understanding of the concepts involved from the other person's 'area' and very little desire to discuss things together. I think it has been around 18 months since I last saw them in the same room at the same time. Simple tasks like scheduling meetings are such a nightmare that I have actually had nightmares about it.

The one I meet regularly with treats me awfully (all the things that don't sound too bad because, once or twice aren't bad, but it has become such a disgusting pattern). Always late, always changing their mind about when we are meeting. Changes the subject and interrupts all the time. Never gives a thought-through answer to any question, never brings a notebook (and instead chooses to scrawl on mine), never gives practical advice (I've in fact been unofficially supervising their masters student because the student can't get any lab help - but it's at a point where I don't actually have the knowledge needed to help).
posted
03-Jun-16, 14:50
edited about 13 minutes later
Avatar for PerceptuaLenna
posted about 4 years ago
Part2.

This person also sets such a bad professional example- tells me to take a break (obviously not knowing that my average workday the last two months has probably been about 4 hours). Uses teaching as an excuse for not having published (or done) own research and not having read my work - even for not attending my 'upgrade' talk (despite that I can check the timetable to prove there's no teaching). Only ever comes in certain days (but doesn't admit it openly) and for want of a better word, is lazy. In addition, makes me feel that I can't admit any stress/problem whatsoever - reasons: 1) previously mocked my casual "ugh this software stresses me out!" 2) asked "is it still continuing, your problem?" in reference to a long-term condition that I'd never really discussed beyond a declaration at the beginning of first year. 3) told me all about another student's confidential business while she was away.

But back to the actual research, I think it'd take a miracle to complete a thesis within the next 14 months (which for financial reasons I would HAVE to do) since I still have no rationale and no defendable analysis of the current work, and no plans for the next phase (supervisors won't discuss any ideas - I just get something like "stick to this replication" whenever I try to bring it up - incidentally the study isn't a replication of the paper they always refer to, it just includes variables mentioned in the paper's introduction).

I have little to no opportunity to gain skills elsewhere (two temp RA positions (elsewhere within same dept.) and one external workshop application refused by supervisors), all I have is one conference presentation under my belt, and that didn't even go very well.
posted
03-Jun-16, 15:00
Avatar for PerceptuaLenna
posted about 4 years ago
Part 3 (last part I think)
I wrote a short chapter draft based on my first study (months ago) and was told to send it to a journal (at this stage it was certainly not a paper - e.g. it had no introduction of the concepts because I'd written it as a 'middle' chapter) and I'm still waiting for actual comments on it.

Weeks ago, I sent a progress report and an email questioning my own reasoning and rationale and received no comments on that either - despite spelling out that I feel that the methods are not really valid.


I feel as though there isn't much in the way of a way forward from where I am.

Equally, I've lost a lot in the process: in thinking this through today, I have no friends/family that I can call to talk it through. Doing this has taken relationships, time, health, money, everything.

If I quit, I lose my mental health support worker, I lose friends/colleagues from the PhD cohort, I lose face, I lose money, I lose my flat. My CV/general reputation will be hindered if I quit: I won't get to start again elsewhere with a new project because as much as I feel I've tried here, not completing is going to be seen as a failure on my part. I don't have the experience needed to get a non-academic non-research kind of job. And I don't have the finances to survive without my stipend.

If I stay, and fail, I'll be in the same kind of position just a year or two older.
posted
03-Jun-16, 15:17
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 4 years ago
Ok, first of all, what you are describing is pretty normal, not acceptable, but just a common experience.

It's common to have issues with supervisors like you mentioned and it's common not to have many results yet. Rationale can always be found from the literature later...

I don't think you need to think about quitting just yet - first of all, you need to rectify the situation, and you have two options:

1. Arrange a formal meeting with your supervisors, tell them what support you need and state how you want them to give it. Make sure everything is written down and mutually agreed. Give them a chance to follow through with their agreed actions. Tell them you are considering quitting if you want - the honesty may help.

2. Speak to your head of year/pastoral carer and see what they advise.

Personally I recommend you take the supervisor route first, because they may not take kindly to 'interference' from other academics.
posted
03-Jun-16, 15:28
edited about 8 seconds later
Avatar for PerceptuaLenna
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From TreeofLife:
Ok, first of all, what you are describing is pretty normal, not acceptable, but just a common experience.

It's common to have issues with supervisors like you mentioned and it's common not to have many results yet. Rationale can always be found from the literature later...

I don't think you need to think about quitting just yet - first of all, you need to rectify the situation, and you have two options:

1. Arrange a formal meeting with your supervisors, tell them what support you need and state how you want them to give it. Make sure everything is written down and mutually agreed. Give them a chance to follow through with their agreed actions. Tell them you are considering quitting if you want - the honesty may help.

2. Speak to your head of year/pastoral carer and see what they advise.

Personally I recommend you take the supervisor route first, because they may not take kindly to 'interference' from other academics.


Thanks for your reply :)

In regards to it being common, in a way I'm glad it's not just me, but also I'm sad and mad that people have to deal with this kind of rubbish.

I have thought about speaking to the postgrad tutor (though struggling with how exactly to phrase what I want to talk about without it coming across as a massive whinge!). Actually in general I'm struggling to specify even to myself what are some tangible things that I could verbalise and try to resolve/improve. I don't know how to express why I have completely lost tolerance for things that sound like a minor annoyance (e.g. meeting lateness etc) The lateness in particular I had actually planned to point out to the person involved directly this week...but then of course that meeting was cancelled!

I seem to have just dissolved into a pattern of doing nothing because I'm a bit lost as to what exactly I should do :/
posted
03-Jun-16, 15:57
edited about 19 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 4 years ago
I know what you mean, sometimes it is just a case of letting stuff go, because it can just be personal preference. For example, I wouldn't particularly care if my supervisors were late for meetings but it would really bug me if they came to see me whilst I was eating lunch, or when I have just arrived at the office. I could also produce a list about all the things my supervisors do that I find odd (shout across rooms, emails all hours of day/night and weekends, expects stuff done immediately...) but these aren't really things anyone is going to tackle - it's just this person's style.

I think if you felt like you were making progress with your work you would feel better - this what you need to address with your supervisors really. I would try again with them with this, speaking to someone else to try to frame your research first if you need to, and see what difference it makes. You need a plan to work towards - for your research and for your thesis chapters and papers.
posted
03-Jun-16, 16:22
edited about 4 minutes later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From TreeofLife:
Ok, first of all, what you are describing is pretty normal, not acceptable, but just a common experience.


I think it is a bit problematic if something like that is seen as normal. In my opinion it isn't. I'm not a UK student but I know at least 30 PhD students (all the people from my old universities and the new one I'm now working) and none of them has major problems with their supervisors. It might comfort people to hear something like that or encourage them to pull trough but if seeing the university counselor (I never ever heard of something like that before I visited this site) is considered as a common experience, then something is going terribly wrong. The majority of people I know enjoy their PhDs most of the time, don't suffer from mental health problems and so on and I think that's how it should be, despite the fact that there are of course sometimes difficult periods. A PhD does not come easy.

I would really try to get them both in one room and make absolutely clear that you seriously consider to quit because you see major flaws in methodology and do not believe that this project can be successful. Maybe that is the wake up call they need to take your matter a bit more seriously. It is also not good for the reputation of a supervisor if their students fail or if there are complaints about their supervision style. I would not give up yet. There is still time to get data and finish a thesis, even though it will probably not be a master piece or might get major corrections or something like that.
posted
03-Jun-16, 17:06
edited about 25 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From Dunham:


I think it is a bit problematic if something like that is seen as normal. In my opinion it isn't. I'm not a UK student but I know at least 30 PhD students (all the people from my old universities and the new one I'm now working) and none of them has major problems with their supervisors. It might comfort people to hear something like that or encourage them to pull trough but if seeing the university counselor (I never ever heard of something like that before I visited this site) is considered as a common experience, then something is going terribly wrong. The majority of people I know enjoy their PhDs most of the time, don't suffer from mental health problems and so on and I think that's how it should be, despite the fact that there are of course sometimes difficult periods. A PhD does not come easy.


Pretty much every student/person I know has had some sort of issue with their supervisor/manager.

Many managers and supervisors don't have formal training and many never get any feedback or act upon it when they do get it, so it's not really surprising.

Plus, for some students fresh out of undergrad or from different international backgrounds, managing a supervisory/managerial relationship is a new experience.

Furthermore, it's not unique to this forum. It's a common issue with PhDs discussed worldwide - I'm surprised you have never heard of it before.
posted
03-Jun-16, 19:41
edited about 2 minutes later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From TreeofLife:

Furthermore, it's not unique to this forum. It's a common issue with PhDs discussed worldwide - I'm surprised you have never heard of it before.


What's your definition of "common"? Is it common that PhD students suffer from anxiety and depressions? If so, I've been pretty lucky so far and met all the exceptions. I am aware that not everybody is openly talking about mental health issues but here I sometimes have the feeling as if this was regarded as perfectly normal. Maybe I get a wrong impression because the happy people are usually less abundant in these kind of forums. Of course there are difficult parts during a PhD (like there are in every job) but I am pretty sure that not even 1% of the PhD students at my university could tell you where you could find the counselor. So for me this is not common (even though it of course exists) but rather a big issue if you are feeling so bad that you are seeking professional help.
posted
03-Jun-16, 19:55
edited about 10 minutes later
Avatar for windowsill
posted about 4 years ago
regarding the normalization of this, i would definitely agree with dunham, that the described situation shouldn't ideally be seen as normal.
however, i came across quite many bad situations... so it does seem to be normal, but not 'good-normal'. personally i haven't seen anyone being moderately happy, most had counselling-worthy issues at some point and supervision like the above does seem to be 'normal'. a lecturer told me that there's something wrong with a pg when they're happy, so there is a certain normalization about it and i think it's really dangerous to accept that kind of suffering as normal.
my experience in another country: phd students are praised and they come out of the thing with their head held high. here they need 6 months or so to recover. so there is definitely something ungood going on here.



i would suggest to change supervisor if the meeting doesn't lead to anything
posted
03-Jun-16, 20:23
edited about 25 minutes later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 4 years ago

my experience in another country: phd students are praised and they come out of the thing with their head held high. here they need 6 months or so to recover. so there is definitely something ungood going on here.


I didn't want to draw that conclusion because I never studied at a UK institution but that was my impression as well. There seems to be a huge difference in how people perceive their PhD depending on the country. I am absolutely sure that if you would ask the people that defended their PhD in the departments I was ( all European universities) then 95% would say that it was a difficult, but overall great time. There are always obstacles and some projects are not going as good as others but that's how it is. You don't know it in advance. There are of course also shitty supervisors that don't care about their students but it is not as omnipresent as it is often described here.
posted
04-Jun-16, 08:01
edited about 29 seconds later
Avatar for windowsill
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From Dunham:

my experience in another country: phd students are praised and they come out of the thing with their head held high. here they need 6 months or so to recover. so there is definitely something ungood going on here.


I didn't want to draw that conclusion because I never studied at a UK institution but that was my impression as well. [...] There are of course also shitty supervisors that don't care about their students but it is not as omnipresent as it is often described here.


i'm glad you share this perception. on the whole it's a weird country really. as a foreigner you sometimes think: wow really?!?!, when you see the kind of stuff people have to put up with and you want to ask: why does your government hate you so much?
i can luckily go back to my own country & would have thought twice about coming here had i known how dire it is (studied at a top ten russell group).

the general attitude is: whatever they throw at you, you have to suck it up and if you don't, then the rationale goes that you're not cut out for it, or that you want 'holding hands', when all you want is adequate supervision. this whole british obsession with class doesn't help.

undergrad's complaints are taken much more seriously as ug views are reflected in the national student survey which is included in the calculation of rankings of unis. pg views are not included in that survey which is why their complaints can be ignored.


but i didn't mean to distract from perceptualenna's very real concerns....
my advice would be, as above, do that meeting, and if things don't improve very quickly, change supervisor. take all the help you can get in the way of counselling and so on...
posted
04-Jun-16, 11:36
edited about 19 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 4 years ago
I said it was common to experience the issues described, not common to suffer anxiety and depression because of it. I only know two students that have seen a counsellor - one as a direct result of the PhD and the other due to a personal issue.

Of course everyone can find fault with some things, but most students I know are happy with their PhD, supervisors and university overall.
posted
04-Jun-16, 14:31
edited about 3 seconds later
Avatar for PerceptuaLenna
posted about 4 years ago


i would suggest to change supervisor if the meeting doesn't lead to anything


I've thought about this a couple of times too.I'm not sure if there is anyone who could replace them.

But I do know that another student who had my second supervisor switched to someone else (but didn't tell me why).

I certainly wouldn't be able to switch both of them so it's a question of who is being most problematic...and yet still there's nobody who I could reasonably suggest as a replacement. :/
posted
04-Jun-16, 14:39
Avatar for PerceptuaLenna
posted about 4 years ago


the general attitude is: whatever they throw at you, you have to suck it up and if you don't, then the rationale goes that you're not cut out for it, or that you want 'holding hands', when all you want is adequate supervision. this whole british obsession with class doesn't help.

undergrad's complaints are taken much more seriously as ug views are reflected in the national student survey which is included in the calculation of rankings of unis. pg views are not included in that survey which is why their complaints can be ignored.


but i didn't mean to distract from perceptualenna's very real concerns....
my advice would be, as above, do that meeting, and if things don't improve very quickly, change supervisor. take all the help you can get in the way of counselling and so on...


I've asked for a meeting next week so I'll see how that goes!

I think you're right with regards to having to deal with whatever is thrown at you. I completely feel that if I make a fuss, or if things go wrong, it would be very much pinned on me as "the student who wasn't up to it" rather than taking into consideration the environment as a whole.

My department also very much puts emphasis on undergrads' complaints...and undergrads in general - is it because there are more of them?! There are rules about turnaround times on feedback for their written work (which we have to stick to when marking) which is supposed to apply to us too...but supervisors don't stick to that. They use marking undergrad stuff as an excuse to cancel meetings as well. Like as if you can't mark papers at any time of the day!

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